Coastal Enterprises, Inc. (CEI), a non-profit community development corporation, has been in the L-A area for over 17 years working with businesses on financing issues and serving as resource on employment issues. Two years ago, CEI expanded its office to serve the tri-county area of Androscoggin, Oxford and Franklin counties. This change brought additional services such as a loan and investment officer, a business counselor to work with targeted populations and a housing developer. Today these efforts build on the community’s assets and are responsive to changing markets and entrepreneurial needs.

CEI Loan & Investment officer, Stephen Lovejoy describes the corporation as a lending institution for economic development for everything from small, in-home business loans to financing for larger business real estate and building transactions. “As an economic development agency, we can take more risk than the banks,” he explains. “That’s our job – to take on the risk that banks nay not be able to take.”

It is important to note that CEI does not compete with banks but rather, serves as a support lending resource. CEI raises capital from a variety of private and public sources to re-lend or invest in promising Maine enterprises that meet its financing and social impact criteria. The corporation is also involved with a consortium of economic growth partners including FAME, the Lewiston Economic Growth Council, and AVCOG. “We work with other development agencies and commercial banks to help businesses grow,” says Lovejoy. “We provide what is known as ‘gap financing’. We fill in the gap between what is needed for the loan and what is available through conventional lenders. Our goal is to create new jobs and businesses that wouldn’t happen without someone stepping in to fill the void.”

Lovejoy points to the Small Business Administration 504 Program as one of the programs CEI offers to encourage economic growth. SBA 504 provides low interest rates and long-term financing for businesses borrowing $250,000 or more to purchase real estate and equipment. Financed projects must meet set criteria set forth by CEI to ensure the creation of jobs, the creation of businesses owned by women or Veterans, or spur economic growth and development of rural areas.

CEI’s StartSmart program works with the refugee, immigrant and growing secondary migrant populations to establish and expand businesses as another way to strengthen the economic fabric of the community. While honoring the diverse literacy levels, cultural and business experiences that a person brings from his or her country of origin, CEI provides 1:1 business coaching, assists with feasibility studies for business ideas, offers business education classes, and assists individuals in securing financing through CEI and community loan programs.

StartSmart coordinator, Jann Yankauskas, says, “We begin by listening.” The process begins by identifying an individual’s skills and merging that skill-base with community needs. Literacy sensitive tools and training help the entrepreneur understand how to create and expand a business within American business practices.

“Somali women, for instance, traditionally stay at home to care for their families,” says Yankauskas. “So we are helping women identify ways for contributing to the household income through home-based businesses, such as daycares, home-manufacturing of food, craft products and interpreter service.” StartSmart at CEI is currently working on a feasibility study for a group of Somali women interested in making Arabian sofas and draperies. “These popular dowry items are difficult to get from their country of origin, so this might be a potential business opportunity,” says Yankauskas.

To create new opportunities for existing, native businesses, StartSmart is also involved in the “Goat Project” to bring Somali and Latino storeowners together with native farmers to increase the availability of goat meat, a traditional, primary food source for the Somali community.

Partnerships with other agencies are the driving force behind other StartSmart projects including the United Somali Women of Maine, Dareelka, the Somali Center of Maine (all originated by the Somali community), the Maine Rural Workers Coalition and Community Concepts and the New Americans Agricultural Project.

Beyond business development is the issue of housing for Maine’s low and moderate-income households. John Egan, CEI Housing Developer, says, “The formula for our success lies in the partnerships CEI is able to form with the city and other organizations. In example, CEI served as the consultant and developing agent for the elderly housing Frye School project. Senior Plus was the project sponsor and partnered with us.”

“We want to reduce the barriers for people to take over their own economic control,” explains Egan. He cites the example of a tenant of a newly renovated Maple Street three-unit apartment complex who is working to become the owner of the building. CEI offers training and education on landowning and homeownership, assists in resolving credit issues and establishes an Individual Development Account (IDA), a savings account whereby every dollar saved by the tenant was matched by CEI up to four thousand dollars.

Egan acknowledges the City of Lewiston as being a particularly enthusiastic partner in the city’s housing development. The Kennedy Parkview Townhouse is just one of the projects underway for 2003. Says Egan, “We are working on the development of a property located on Park and Spruce Streets, a downtown property with mixed residential and commercial use. Through a grant, the property will be reconfigured from a sixteen unit apartment house to eight ownership units, effectively introducing homeownership to that area.” Egan anticipates the sale of these townhouses between $40,000 and $60,000 per unit.

CEI continues to participate among community leaders and advocates to develop the vision of making L-A a world-class community, focused attention on job creation and alleviating poverty. CEI’s mission is “to help Maine people and communities, particularly those with low incomes, reach an adequate and equitable standard of living, learning, and working in harmony with our natural environment.” Visit www.ceimaine.org for more details.


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